Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New Year's resolution: Stop breathing

CPAs and financial planners have been joking about what would happen in 2010 for several years now. In the most morbid tax planning context we’ve ever seen, 2010 is the year for rich people to kick the bucket.

You see, in 2001 Congress changed the exemption schedule for estate taxes, increasing the exemption to $3.5 million in steps over the decade. The final increment was to get rid of estate taxes altogether starting in 2010.

No one, and I mean no one, thought that Congress would allow estate taxes to disappear, particularly after the Democrats wrested control of both houses and the presidency. But here we are on the cusp of 2010 and Congress, perhaps distracted by health care and Fox News, has not extended the current $3.5 million exemption into next year.

That was my expectation—that Congress would extend the current rule and keep it at that level for the foreseeable future. The other looming change is that the estate tax exemption is scheduled to return in 2011 at the old $1 million level. This sunset provision of the Bush tax cuts was never expected to come about, but now we’re all starting to wonder.

So what is the practical aspect of estate taxes vanishing in 2010? If you’re rich—meaning that you are worth more than a) $3.5 million if you believe Congress will eventually reinstall that exemption limit, b) $1 million if you believe Congress will do nothing and we’ll go back to the old law, or c) pick a number you think Congress will settle on—then you’ll want to die during 2010 in order to save your heirs hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of dollars in estate taxes.

It has been reported that gravely ill rich people are being kept alive by every means possible with caring family members cheering them on, hoping to share that last drop of the ball in Times Square. After the champagne is sipped and everyone kisses each other under the confetti falling from the hospice room ceiling, the heirs will gather their coats and gloves, pull the plug on grandma, and head home.

This will be playing out all over America tomorrow night. Hey, who wouldn’t be motivated to hang in there a few more hours just to screw Uncle Sam?

Copyright 2009 Randy Hunt

Monday, December 28, 2009

Information and freedom go hand in hand

Information is at the root of freedom.

Freedom of the press is a fundamental ingredient to our democratic republic. And, as much as right-wingers want to point out that the mainstream media sleeps under the same tent as President Obama, there are other media available for an opposing voice.

The Internet has essentially eliminated the barriers-of-entry for those espousing a different viewpoint. This panacea of open debate brings with it some challenges as well.

When Jay Rockefeller implied that we would be better off, from a national security standpoint, if the Internet didn’t exist, I took his comments in the context they were made; that is, our nation’s security is vulnerable from a new front: cyberattacks.

The senator produced a bill, Senate 773, that would allow the president to take whatever action is necessary to counter a declared cybersecurity emergency, including taking control of nongovernmental computer networks.

This is where balance and cool-headed reasoning is necessary. To shut down private sector use of the Internet in a declared cyberemergency should require nearly apocalyptic circumstances before such an emergency be declared.

In my opinion, we should put our resources into chasing down or staying ahead of the cybercrooks, just like we always have when it came to more earthy criminals, like Al Capone and Richard Nixon.

In fact, rather than to propose limits on the Internet, I think we should follow the Radio Free Europe model and come up with a way to bombard nation states like Cuba, Iran and North Korea with WiFi.

Imagine the transfer of power to the people of Iran, some of whom are demonstrating in the streets right now and being slaughtered for it, if we could make the uncensored Internet available to everyone in that totalitarian country. I’m imagining that laptops with the requisite wireless cards would somehow arrive to meet the demand of the Iranian people.

You see, information is power. And information in the hands of the right people can bring about sweeping change. The corollary to this is equally true and efforts by our government to limit the access to information can also lead to sweeping change.

Change we don’t want.

Copyright 2009 Randy Hunt

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

K-Cups

Mary and I treated ourselves to a Keurig Single-Cup Coffee Brewer for an early Christmas present. It’s a bit of an extravagance, but really quite handy for our clients who might want a cup of coffee or tea. You hate to brew a whole pot and just pour one or two cups.

Not having worked one of these things before, I was fascinated with how you can control the strength of a brew, make iced tea, and not have much of anything to clean up. Pretty cool.

Last night, we went to Kohl’s in Wareham to pick up some last minute Christmas gifts. I wanted to look at men’s gloves and Mary wanted to look at women’s pocketbooks, so we started to head in different directions. Mary called to me and said, “I’ll meet you where they sell the K-Cups.”

I picked up a pair of gloves and went to meet Mary. Now I know that selecting a pocketbook is on the same order as choosing a vendor to manufacture an F-22 fighter plane, but after ten minutes I was a getting a little antsy.

I was standing there tapping my toe and singing along with the Muzak Christmas carols under my breath, smiling at the women who sashayed by me.

Finally, Mary walks up and asks, “Where have you been?”

“Where have I been? Where have you been?”

“I told you to meet me at the K-Cups.”

“Hello… I’ve been standing here for fifteen minutes.”

“This is the lingerie department.”

Oh, I thought to myself. Even for one with as fertile an imagination as I have, the thought of a K cup size did seem a little extreme, if not frightening.

“So… What kind of coffee did you get?”

Copyright 2009 Randy Hunt

Monday, December 21, 2009

DIY around the house

When we bought our house in June and moved our office into it in August, I made a pledge to handle as much of the maintenance as possible. Not only does it save money, but it’s generally good for you to get outside and do stuff.

[This paragraph is not to be read by my wife Mary. The other cool thing about doing stuff yourself is buying the equipment and tools. So far, I’m up one miter saw with a laser guide, a Kreg pocket hole jig system, and a power washer.]

Our first project was to extend the railing on the front porch to include a hand rail for the steps. This is very important for a number of our clients and something that was missing at our old office.

With a new miter saw and a half dozen trips to the hardware store, we had the parts and gear necessary to assemble the railing. Mary painted it and we sank the bottom post into 75 pounds of Sacrete. It looks nice and improves safety.

Lawn maintenance was a tougher thing to do. Although I’ve cut lawns since I was a kid, it seems like more of a chore than most other tasks. Our lawn is too small for a riding mower and that would defeat the exercise aspect of DIY (do-it-yourself). I did get a new fertilizer spreader out of the deal though.

Then came the fall. And the leaves. And more leaves. And even more leaves. My leaf blower doubles as a leaf vacuum, which was very handy for getting leaves out of the places they tend to accumulate, like in corners and behind planters.

I decided the best strategy for the leaves on the lawn was to simply mow them up. I did that five times by the time the last leaves came down. I found a leaf vacuum by DR Power Equipment that is going on my wish list for next year. See it here.

With the leaves off the trees, gutter cleaning time was upon us. When I saw the amount of sediment in the gutters, I decided to try something different. Up I went on the ladder carrying my pressure washer hose. I aimed it down the gutter, pulled the trigger, and two inches of muck and leaves blew out of the gutter. Each blast cleaned about eight feet of gutter.

Of course, the muck didn’t just vaporize, but the clean up wasn’t that bad. What fell on the driveway, I just power washed onto the lawn and mowed it up the next day after it dried.

That brings me to this past weekend’s snowstorm. I’ve been waiting anxiously for the first decent snow to put my snow blower to work. We picked it up as part of the deal when we bought the house. It has an eight-horsepower motor with a 27-inch wide, 19-inch tall scoop, six forward gears and two reverse gears.

By Sunday morning, we had about 16 inches of snow on the ground with some drifts a lot deeper than that. I was in snow blowing heaven. It took me three hours to clear our 200-foot driveway and parking area and it was stilling snowing a little when I came in to watch the not-so-mighty Patriots beat the hapless Bills for the twelfth time in a row.

This morning, I went back out to clear the area around our mailbox. There was an eight-foot wide, three-foot tall berm of ice and snow between the street and the mailbox created by the plow trucks. I contemplated shoveling it then imagined keeling over from a heart attack, being covered up by a passing plow, and not being found for a week. Hey, it’s happened before.

So I pushed the snow blower into the snow bank and tunneled until the roof caved in. I then backed it out and blew the rest of the snow out of the way. Repeating this process for about a half hour, I was able to create a pull-off for the mail carrier.

The final task was to clear a path for the oil delivery guy around to the back of the house. These guys do appreciate not having to trudge through knee deep snow dragging their filler hose to a spout that’s buried under a four-foot snow drift.

Most of that snow was at the top of the snow blower scoop, which means we got a total of about 19 inches from this early winter storm. Correction: The Winter Solstice wasn’t until today, making this big east coast storm technically a really late fall storm.

To all of our friends in Florida: Eat your hearts out. What did you do this weekend? Golf? You’re missing all the fun.

Copyright 2009 Randy Hunt

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Christmas letter 2039

After sending Christmas cards all these years, we decided to join the “annual Christmas email” gang. At the tender age of 82, I can hardly see to address an envelope and I can never remember where we put the stamps.

A friend showed me how to blow up these letters in Microsoft Word 2035 so Mary and I can see what the hell we’re typing. It makes life easier, but you have to scroll a lot.

We tried the darned fool voice recognition thing, but it still gets half the words wrong. We can send a man to Jupiter, but my computer still can’t make heads or tails out of my shaky voice.

It’s like those dad blamed cell phones. I remember thinking back at the turn of the century that they’d fix the connection problems, but they still drop calls like an oil soaked juggler.

Well anyway, another year has passed by and I can hardly believe it. Modern medicine is responsible for keeping me breathing, eating and crapping. At my age, it’s the crapping part that seems most important.

Mary and I visited some of the kids during the summer. No, that’s not right. I think some of the kids came up here to Cape Cod. Hold on a second…

I was right on both counts. We flew down to Dallas to see Chris, Bryan and Jeff and their families in June. Then Sarah, Gayle and Dan and their families came to see us for the Fourth of July. It was on a Monday this year and the parade was as good as ever. U.S. Senator Jeff Perry was there and delivered a great speech.

The kids want me to quit driving. That’s silly, of course. The only thing I’ve taken out this year is the mail box. (Twice.) Last year’s pin ball machine accident in the grocery store parking lot was not my fault. If they’d clearly marked the gas and brake pedals, it never would’ve happened.

We installed an elevator to make it easier to go upstairs to bed. We had one of those chair lifts for years, but Mary always got mad at me for not sending it back down after I rode it up. It’s like leaving the toilet seat up, I suppose, except that I can’t use the toilet that way anymore. Too much lateral spray these days, Mary says. Probably more than you needed to know.

The Christmas tree looks great. We got one of those that extends like a telescope and unfolds the branches automatically. It’s got all the lights already attached and they run on a battery hidden in the trunk. You charge it for one night and the LED lights are good to go for 21 days. It comes with a remote on/off button and it plays Christmas carols. I had it on the wrong setting and it was playing Sivivon, Sov, Sov, Sov for the first three nights.

Here's a picture Mary took of me on our anniversary in October. I'm still quite the handsome devil, don't you agree?




That’s about all I can think of for this first email Christmas letter. Merry Christmas to all and may 2040 be a wonderful and prosperous year for everyone.

Randy & Mary

Copyright 2009 Randy Hunt

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Amber Alert: America has lost its innocence

Hamptonville, Michigan—Reports of several missing children jammed the 9-1-1 emergency lines in the small town of Hamptonville, Michigan, last Thursday. State police followed up quickly by issuing an Amber Alert, identifying four children, all of whom reside on the same north side street.

A mother of one of the missing children discovered that her son and three other neighborhood boys left her front yard only minutes after she went inside to prepare an afternoon snack for them.

She used her cell phone to quickly call the two other mothers and the three of them met in the street, frantically calling for their kids. Other parents came out to see what was going on and, after a minute or two, 9-1-1 calls were being made by more than a half dozen people.

Hamptonville police initiated the request for an Amber Alert after learning that one of the neighbors witnessed a large man leading several children south. He was described as tall, white, middle-aged man wearing disheveled clothes, black boots, and a hat.

State police confirmed that abductions in broad daylight are not unusual, most happening in the vicinity of schools at the end of a school day. “This case did not fit the normal M.O.,” Sgt. Brian Mallory said, “both on account of it being a holiday and the fact that more than one child was involved.”

About an hour after the Amber Alert was broadcast, a police officer radioed headquarters that he had spotted the man and four boys in downtown Hamptonville and requested back up units. He told the dispatcher that the man was carrying what appeared to be a rifle.

Two additional Hamptonville police officers and a state police unit arrived within a five minutes, taking up positions at the perimeter of Downtown Square. Because the suspect and children were in the mostly open square, approaching the armed man without endangering the four boys was tricky.

Local police officer, Darrell Townshend, was eventually able to move closer to the group by darting from one bench to another, staying low to remain undetected. When he was within 10 yards of the suspect, one of the state police officers on the far side of the square hollered “Stop!” which gave Officer Townshend the opening he needed to put himself between the man and the children.

“At that moment, I saw that the suspect was not carrying a rifle, but rather a broomstick. He bolted out of the square and headed down Elm Street, the only street we hadn’t been able to cover,” Officer Townshend recounted. “By the time our backups made their way across the square, the man had disappeared around the corner.”

In a little town like Hamptonville, there is no police helicopter and only 25 police officers, three of whom are on duty at any given time. The abductor is still at large and, to date, no additional leads have been developed in this case.

One of the boys reportedly told his mother that the man had promised “Don’t you cry, I’ll be back again some day.”

Retired police chief, Keith Caruthers, recalled an almost identical situation that took place 59 years ago in Hamptonville when he was a rookie traffic cop. Lamenting the loss of innocence that his small town and the country as a whole has experienced since then, he picked up his guitar and sang a song about that long ago event:

Frosty the snowman was a jolly happy soul,
With a corncob pipe and a button nose
And two eyes made out of coal.


Frosty the snowman is a fairy tale, they say,
He was made of snow but the children
Know how he came to life one day.


There must have been some magic in that
Old silk hat they found.
For when they placed it on his head
He began to dance around.


O, Frosty the snowman
Was alive as he could be,
And the children say he could laugh
And play just the same as you and me.


Thumpety thump thump,
Thumpety thump thump,
Look at Frosty go.


Thumpety thump thump,
Thumpety thump thump,
Over the hills of snow.


Frosty the snowman knew
The sun was hot that day,
So he said, "Let's run and
We'll have some fun
Now before I melt away."


Down to the village,
With a broomstick in his hand,
Running here and there all
Around the square saying,
Catch me if you can.


He led them down the streets of town
Right to the traffic cop.
And he only paused a moment when
He heard him holler "Stop!"


For Frosty the snow man
Had to hurry on his way,
But he waved goodbye saying,
"Don't you cry,
I'll be back again some day."


Thumpety thump thump,
Thumpety thump thump,
Look at Frosty go.


Thumpety thump thump,
Thumpety thump thump,
Over the hills of snow.

(Music and lyrics by Steve Rollins and Steve Nelson, 1950. A more innocent time.)

Copyright 2009 Randy Hunt

Saturday Night Live - Salahis

You have to appreciate the fact that the SNL writers take no prisoners.

Friday, December 4, 2009

It’s not easy being green

We’ve been striving to be greener lately.

We’ve got separate containers for recyclable things. At one time, I thought the list of recyclables was rather short; just the things that have that circular arrow logo on them.

Recently I saw an ad for the ultimate recycling system. You dump nearly anything, short of spent nuclear rods, into a barrel mounted on a giant rotisserie. Turn the crank every day and, in a few months, voilĂ : compost.

Dual Chamber Compost Buddy

Compost is good for your garden. Especially your vegetable garden. And what could be more perfect? Garbage in, soil out. Beautiful red ripe tomatoes grown from the rotten tomatoes that hid out in the back of the crisper for three months.

At around $700, the dual barrel deluxe composter with a special sifter and polyester cover is a little steep. People have told me that you need nothing but an area to use for a compost pile. Enclosing it with a short wood wall is a nice addition, but not a requirement.

Of course, this inexpensive composting system comes with some extra work. Rather than strolling out in your Sunday suit with white gloves on and turning the crank a few times, you have to turn the pile with a pitchfork and suffer the release of methane gas.

Next spring, we’ll make a decision on which way to go. If I can hook up an electric motor attached to a timer, I may go with a totally automated version of the Dual Chamber Compost Buddy. How cool would that be?

Today, however, I learned about another composting system that requires no work. You don’t have to feed it. You don’t have to turn it. It’s completely hands off.

It’s called a rain gutter. In a short three or four years, you too can have compost. Perfect for a garden, yes. But why go to the trouble scooping it out of the rain gutter? Just toss in some seeds and start a vegetable garden ten feet off the ground.

It has the additional benefit of being out of reach of typical garden pests, like rabbits, skunks, and most deer. When those tomatoes and cucumbers are ready for picking, pull out the extension ladder and harvest your dinner.

For more gardening tips, you may want to try a different blog in the future.

Copyright 2009 Randy Hunt

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

2009 trip to Texas: Day 13, final day

We’re back and it’s nice to be home.

What a nice time seeing all six of our kids and five grandkids, not to mention a number of nephews, nieces, grandnephews, grandnieces and, of course, by brother and sister-in-law. Did I note that we had 33 for Thanksgiving dinner?

On the flight back, I was reading Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. It’s not a new book (2005), but I’ve passed it over for other reading material for several years. It is chock full of analyses on how incentive systems drive people’s behavior. Some of the analogies are interesting, such as comparing realtors to KKK members and sumo wrestlers to schoolteachers.

We arrived on time and rode the P&B bus back to the Sagamore commuter lot. A very wise and wonderful gentleman picked us up and drove us home.

Tomorrow we’re back at it. Must remember: Debits on the left, credits on the right.

Copyright 2009 Randy Hunt

2009 trip to Texas: Day 12

Monday morning was taken up locating all of the things that escaped from the suitcase and shoulder bags and getting them back in our luggage for the trip home. Our daughter, Sarah, was also heading out for a week long training class in Orlando for new managers at Ernst & Young, so we agreed that she would drop us off at a hotel close to DFW.

Our other daughter, Gayle, was flying with Sarah to act as nanny for baby Charlotte while Sarah attended classes. We stopped for lunch and then said our goodbyes at the Westin Hotel.

Later we were joined by Dan and Bryan at the hotel bar for dinner. Planted right in front of the big screen TV, we suffered through the first half of the Saints/Patriots game. The boys took off and we retired to our room to watch the hapless Patriots try to corral a (quite literally) perfect Drew Brees.

There is a chance that two undefeated teams could meet in the Super Bowl. That would be unprecedented, of course, but it would have an interesting side effect: Mercury Morris would have no choice but to keep his flap trap shut.

Copyright 2009 Randy Hunt